16 November 2001

GM technology essential for future

GM CROPS alone are not the quick fix for world hunger, but biotechnology can make production more efficient and improve food quality.

That was the message from Oxford Universitys Chris Leaver at the opening of the annual British Crop Protection Conference in Brighton.

"Crop biotechnology alone is not the magic bullet that will feed the world, nor will it eliminate poverty," says Prof Leaver. "But this technology, together with plant breeding and improved agricultural practice, may provide solutions to some of the challenges and improve the quality of peoples lives."

Providing food for the current 6bn population, plus feeding an extra 3bn and satisfying demand for better diets spurred by increasing prosperity will be the key tasks for society in the next 50 years, he says.

Although food supplies have risen by 25% in the past 40 years, output will need to double or treble in the next 50, he says. "800m people, mainly in developing countries, are undernourished. 12m children die every year because of malnutrition."

GM advances allowing the worlds main crops to be grown where they havent before and to produce vitamins and vaccines will do much to offset that, he believes.

With falling world fossil fuel stocks hitting critical levels in 10-20 years time the challenge will be even tougher, he warns.

Nuclear power aside, the sun will be the only sustainable energy source and green plants the only means of harvesting it. "Chlorophyll is the only coloured molecule you can see from space."

Biotechnology will be needed to improve plants efficiency in doing that and allow them to produce a wide range of the unrecyclable goods currently derived from fossil fuels, Prof Leaver believes.

"We must assume responsibility for fully evaluating this technology to contribute to the security of future generations. Doing nothing is not an option." &#42

FUTURE FOR FOOD

&#8226 Extra 3bn to feed in 50 years.

&#8226 800m already undernourished.

&#8226 Falling fossil fuel stocks.

&#8226 Biotech advances essential.